Social Workers in Disaster Management

Why Social Workers in Disaster Management?

Disasters result in extreme stress situations where all kinds of socio-cultural and psycho-economic support are required for the affecters. The disasters also affect the people individually and collectively. Depending on their magnitude and enormity, the disasters create trauma for the whole community due to infrastructure immobility, colossal disorder and interruption of customary provisions and leadership (Quarantelli, 1985), all of which produce a sense of helplessness and grief in families, small groups and individuals resulting in extreme disruption, losses and exasperated efforts to acquire help and solve problems.

12 Roles of Social Workers in Disaster Management

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A social worker addresses the psychological and social needs of vulnerable people in stressful situations, helps them find resources and services and enhances their social functioning by creating relationships between them and their relatives. Social workers work with individuals, groups, and communities. They work in various places, including hospitals, senior citizens' homes, institutions for disabled persons, schools, community services, government organisations, and emergency and disaster relief organisations.

Social workers are always keen on helping needy or deprived individuals by casework, then how social workers can ignore the millions of disaster-affected disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals? Social workers' areas of interest include social problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, disabled persons, gender discrimination, child labour, and crimes. All these social problems can be observed after disasters, as disasters result in all of these social issues. Social workers are professionally trained to contribute to the organisation, development and solution of community problems. Disasters ruin the whole of the communities. There is a lot to do for the organisation, development, problem-solving and resources mobilisation on a self-help basis for strengthening the local communities.


Direct services, psycho-social support, and rehabilitation measures, which are exceptional tools of social workers, are highly practicable and effective in disaster-affected areas. The disaster can be high time, definitely, for social workers to demonstrate their skills and knowledge and put up, what they have studied, into practice. At the 1996 National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Delegate Assembly, the current Disaster Policy Statement (NASW, 2000) was adopted, which reads: "NASW supports participation in and advocates for programs and policies that serve individuals and communities in the wake of disaster" (p. 71). 

In 1997 NASW signed a five-year agreement with the American Red Cross to deliver mental health services to the victims of disaster, rescue workers, military personnel and their families, and refugees (American Red Cross, 2000). Social work practitioners are taught to evaluate situations critically and comprehensively while considering all social, physical, environmental, and psychological factors.


12 Roles of Social Workers in Disaster Management

Disaster social work is the practice of social work during natural disasters. This field specialises in strengthening individuals and communities in the wake of a natural disaster. It includes working with the most vulnerable community members while enhancing the community to help with the recovery process.

According to the American Red Cross, "Across the duration of a disaster, four stages have been identified that provide chronological targets for social work responses:

(1) Pre-impact, beginning when a disaster poses no immediate threat but prompts mitigation and preparedness activities

(2) Impact, or the period when the disaster event takes place

(3) Post-impact, or the period immediately after the impact up to the beginning of recovery

(4) Recovery, or the period in which disaster survivors are working toward restoring their pre-disaster state." 

These four stages are the primary targets social workers want to address when dealing with a natural disaster. These targets aim to help with the recovery process.

Social workers should play a significant role in information sharing with communities, shelter provision, and education and mobilisation of communities before, during and after disasters. They should work with communities to plan, educate, and advocate for vulnerable groups; provide counselling; collaborate with other stakeholders; provide therapy and education on safety measures; conduct research; ensure the welfare of survivors, and help the affected cope and receive welfare assistance. Social workers can play a potentially crucial role in disaster recovery by facilitating community development, restoring livelihoods, providing psycho-social support, and building capacity in local communities. There is also a need to build capacity in the social work profession to integrate social, economic and environmental dimensions in policy and practice and develop curricula to better prepare social workers for the challenges ahead. Social workers can be engaged in the Disaster Management Cycle at prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery, & rehabilitation steps at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. 


Policy Development

Policy development is needed at the national, provincial/district, and local levels to ensure common goals and approaches are used. Without a shared disaster management policy that applies to all relevant sectors and levels, prevention, preparedness and response are likely fragmented, poorly coordinated and ineffective (World Health Organization, 1999a). Social workers' active participation is required in developing and monitoring policies for disaster management.

Risk, Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment

The purpose of vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA)—also commonly called risk analysis or threat assessment—is to identify hazards and their possible effects on communities. Vulnerability assessment forms strategies for reducing vulnerability.

It enables emergency prevention, mitigation and preparedness measures. In this case, Social workers define vulnerability in both individuals and communities. Poverty and lack of household wealth mean that individuals, Health conditions, lack of disposable income, Older individuals and Children, Social isolation from neighbours, kin, and formal organisations implies that individuals and households will be unable to mobilise social capital to recover after a disaster. Isolated individuals will have difficulty obtaining information to help them make evacuation decisions and get relief services from formal organisations. These individuals suffer from a lack of social support and network ties.

Prevention and Mitigation

Disaster mitigation measures eliminate or reduce the impacts and risks of hazards through proactive measures taken before an emergency or disaster occurs. Community-based mitigation Locally involved people know what the needs are, and they can define the problems. The disaster survivors are knowledgeable about local resources and can use their skills and knowledge to keep costs low. The advantage of the community-based approach is that housing and agriculture or health projects can gain success through local leadership.



Preparedness action is carried out within disaster risk management and aims to build the capacities needed to efficiently manage emergencies and achieve orderly transitions from response through to sustained recovery. Preparedness is based on a sound analysis of disaster risks and good linkages with early warning systems. It includes such activities as contingency planning, stockpiling of equipment and supplies, the development of coordination arrangements, evacuation and public information, and associated training and field exercises. These must be supported by formal institutional, legal and budgetary capacities. The related term "readiness" describes the ability to quickly and appropriately respond when required.

§  Preparedness should be in the form of money, manpower and materials

§  Evaluation of past experiences with risk

§  Location of disaster-prone areas

§  Organization of communication, information and warning system

§  Ensuring co-ordination and response mechanisms

§  Development of public education programme

§ Co-ordination with media

§  National & international relations

§  Keeping stock of foods, drugs and other essential commodities

This action involves organising various types of Seminars & Workshops, Campaigns & Walks, Specialty and area wise Registration of NGOs, Volunteers Registration, Acquiring and Delivering Training, Awareness Building Programs and here, social workers play their vital role.


Disaster risk Management

Disaster risk management (DRM) is a systematic application of management policies, procedures, and practices to identify, analyse, evaluate, treat, and monitor risk. Disaster risk reduction (DRR) entails measures to curb disaster losses by addressing hazards and people's vulnerability to them. Disaster risk management often happens before disasters occur, continues after a disaster and incorporates lessons learned, thus mitigating risks to future disasters. Disaster risk reduction is about modifying hazards, reducing vulnerability, and increasing capacity. Disaster risk reduction activities can be generalised as follows:

a) Initiating the process - linkage and building rapport with the community.

b) Community Profiling - initial understanding of disaster situation and orientation to CBDM

c) Community Risk Assessment – participatory assessment of hazards, vulnerabilities, capacities and people's perception of risks.

d) Formulation of Initial Disaster Risk Reduction Plan - identification of appropriate mitigation and preparedness measures, including public awareness, training and education

e) Formation of Community Disaster Response Organization - community organising and mobilisation, capability building and preparedness

f) Implementation of short-, medium-, and long-term risk reduction measures, activities, projects and programs - implementation strategies and mechanisms; organisational/institutional strengthening

g) Monitoring and Evaluation - continuous improvement of disaster risk reduction plan, documentation and dissemination of good practices for replication


Formulating Emergency evacuation plans for the community

Many casualties happen in public buildings during a disaster, such as schools, universities, churches, supermarkets, hotels, and offices. Lives are lost because people are unaware of the basic precautions they should take when in a public space in an emergency. For example, people won't know where to go if the emergency exits are not well marked when in a panic. Emergency and evacuation plans are essential because they guide the public to safety. An emergency plan is a set of procedures that protect people in the building and are operationalised during a crisis. An evacuation plan informs people about the paths to take in case of evacuation. It communicates other essential information, such as the contact numbers for the fire department, the police, and the DDM.


Damage assessment and Information Gathering

Damages are two types-

a) Human loss: To identify immediate emergency needs, injuries and deaths just after a disaster and gather additional information. Collect essential health data to provide rapid and effective medical relief to populations devastated by the effects of a disaster.

b) Material loss: Damage assessment conducted in-depth. The government is committed to a comprehensive damage assessment of all houses, buildings and public infrastructure in the earthquake-stricken areas. Provide more accurate damage assessment account of the rehabilitation needs and formed the basis of large-scale engineering and building strategy.

The participation of the private sector and state government recognises the power private sector and NGOs in dealing with the enormous challenges of reconstruction. Social workers need to help settle vulnerable people, including daily life arrangements, guidance, grief therapy and counselling, life care, integration of non-governmental resources, improving community cohesion, and rebuilding families and communities.

Moral support

It is essential for social workers to ensure moral support to vulnerable groups or individuals through Situational support, Hopefulness making, Consoling, and Solutions development.

Disaster responses

Disaster response is the second phase of the disaster management cycle. It consists of several elements, for example; Warning/Evacuation, Blood Bank, Donation / Fund Raising, Volunteer work, GO-NGOs Collaboration, Emotional and Psycho-Social First Aid, Lost child registration and protection Community-Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM), Working with Vulnerable Groups, Free medicines and medical camps, Risk assessment, Search and Rescue, Providing Immediate Assistance, Assessing Damage, Continuing Assistance and The Immediate Restoration of Infrastructure.


The aim of emergency response is to provide immediate assistance to maintain life, improve health and support the morale of the affected population. Such assistance may range from providing specific but limited aid to assisting refugees with transport, temporary shelter, and food to establishing a semi-permanent settlement in camps and other locations. It also may involve initial repairs to damaged infrastructure. The response phase focuses on meeting the people's basic needs until more permanent and sustainable solutions can be found. The primary responsibility to address these needs and respond to a disaster lies with the government or governments whose territory the disaster has occurred. In addition, Humanitarian organisations are often strongly present in this phase of the disaster management cycle, particularly in countries where the government lacks the resources to respond adequately to the needs.

Disaster Recovery

As the emergency is brought under control, the affected population can undertake a growing number of activities to restore their lives and the infrastructure that supports them. There is no distinct point where immediate relief changes into recovery and long-term sustainable development. There will be many opportunities to enhance prevention and increase preparedness during the recovery period, thus reducing vulnerability. Ideally, there should be a smooth transition from recovery to ongoing development.

Recovery activities continue until all systems return to normal or better. Both short and long term recovery measures include replacing vital life-support systems with minimum operating standards, temporary housing; public information; health and safety education; reconstruction; counselling programs, and economic impact studies. Information resources and services include data collection related to rebuilding and documentation of lessons learned. Disaster recovery also involves in-.

a) Early Recovery: The affected population is in a more stable transition period in recovery. They have a place to get food and water and a temporary or transitional shelter that withstands wind and rain. They can go about their daily lives, beginning to resume everyday existence. Through their classes, children go back to school may be held in a church, a tent, or some other temporary accommodation. Those affected may not have yet recovered fully, but they have begun to adapt to a "new normal." Early recovery can last any number of weeks or months—even years. While the phases from relief to recovery may follow a similar pattern, the timeline for how quickly a particular community follows this path may depend on its initial vulnerability, access to resources, adaptability, and other consideration.

b) Medium to Long-Term Recovery: During medium to long-term recovery, the work of building permanent physical structures to replace tents, trailers, or plywood houses begins, as does restoration of social structures. As permanent housing is being rebuilt, the social fabric of communities is strengthened. Children are returning to school buildings. Adults have renewed opportunities to improve their livelihoods and restore their family economies. Life is finally beginning to feel stable once more.


Rehabilitation of Victims

The role of the social workers in the rehabilitation of victims of Natural Disasters is significant as they need physical and psychological support to achieve dignified life aftermath of the crisis. Natural disasters produce a considerable impact on the life of sufferers. Loss of life, property, disability, and death results in mental agony. Medical Social Worker plays a substantial role by working in a systematic and methodological approach.

a) Build Back Better: Principle rehabilitation is carried out weeks and months after the disaster. It involves restoring essential services (e.g., communications, commuter transportation, electricity for homes), infrastructure (e.g., roads and bridges, schools), and livelihood. The goal of this phase is not only to restore what existed previously but also to set communities on a better and safer development path and to facilitate resilient recovery.

b) Community-Based Needs Assessments: To develop a proper and acceptable program for recovery and rehabilitation, it is also essential to understand the felt needs of affected communities. Consulting affected populations through interviews before any recovery program ensures public acceptance and support of any planned endeavour. A needs assessment helps prioritise particular areas that need the most immediate action for rehabilitation. a. Infrastructure and Services b. Community Livelihood c. Priorities for Habitat Restoration

c) Social and Community Development: Reconstruction of hospitals, community health centres, primary health centres, primary health sub-centres, reconstruction and repair of primary and secondary schools, social protection for orphans, widows, handicapped and marginalised groups, restoration and reconstruction of institutions of higher education and technical Improved infrastructure rehabilitation of buildings and private conservation and heritage buildings.

Other activities related to Recovery & Rehabilitation include Advocate for Services, Temporary schools, Role as Educator, Liaison between Government and people, Referral services about Government compensation package, Employment opportunities., Microfinance scheme, Recreational Activities, Group work/experiences, Motivation, Revival of new everyday life, Reconstructing community belongings etc.


Community-Based Disaster Risk Management

Social workers not just keep the people waiting till the government's support arrival but also can make them active participants in their recovery and rehabilitation process. Social workers can lead the community towards sustainability by utilising their own resources and collecting the scattered resources where they are available. In resolving health, education, sanitation and reconstruction issues, he can make sure the active participation of community members throughout the whole process. As the Government rehabilitation process is restricted by many structural and red-tappism, a social worker can lead a community towards a better adjustment in a short period through community participation and self-help. A social worker can play the role of mediators, enablers or motivators to involve community members in disaster management. We believe that change is sustainable if we have proper participation and ownership in all processes.

Community engagement and accountability

Community engagement and accountability (CEA) is a unique approach to Disaster Management. It is supported by activities that help put communities at the centre of what we do by integrating communication and participation throughout the programme cycle or operation. CEA is the process of and commitment to providing timely, relevant and actionable life-saving and life-enhancing information to communities. It is about using the most appropriate communication approaches to listen to communities' needs, feedback and complaints, ensuring they can actively participate in actions. CEA supports those involved in programmes and operations to adopt innovative approaches to better understand and engage with people and communities and help them address unhealthy and unsafe practices. It maximises the unique relationship with the community to help them speak out about the issues that affect them and influence decisions and policymakers to implement positive changes.

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